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Westworld producers discuss episode 5’s wild orgy scene

Showrunners answer our burning questions about episode 5

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John P. Johnson; HBO

Sunday’s latest Westworld was its most provocative yet — in fact, the fifth hour in the series, titled “Contrapasso,” might be the most nudity we’ve ever seen in an episode of television. The latest epsiode of the sci-fi drama had Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and William (Jimmi Simpson) journeying to the sinful city of Pariah, where they explored a decadent orgy. The episode also featured a stand-out scene between Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and the Man in Black (Ed Harris), and new hints about what’s driving Dolores’ transformation. Below, showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy once again took our burning questions about their HBO drama’s latest episode:  

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So there were naked hosts, naked humans, gold-paint orgy girls, the well-hung guy being examined by Elise, the “necro-perv” … each scene has its own reason for being in the story, but at some point you two had to have talked about the amount of nudity in this hour and I’m wondering what that discussion like…

Jonathan Nolan: This is new territory for Lisa and myself. I’m English, so we don’t do this kind of stuff, and it hasn’t been a prominent feature of the movies that I’ve worked on. The nudity in the show — and [Entertainment Weekly] as well as others have correctly identified — in most episodes is not supposed to be titillating. It’s about humanizing the hosts, it’s about control. This is the one episode where we were going for it — to show the pure pleasure of this place. But we used the same rule-set that we’ve used throughout, which is to run a closed set where we wanted the set to be as respectful as possible to the actors and background performers who are literally baring it all for these scenes. I think everyone had a good time and it was done as respectfully and carefully as possible. And that scene in Pariah was hugely ambitious and beautifully shot.

Lisa Joy: They go to Pariah, and you know in a park like this there’s going to be an area that has more to do with sensual pleasure. So in an episode like that, nudity is a part of it. One of the things that was important to me in is that while some of it might be kinky, it was still sensual and pleasant looking, that it wasn’t a really dark place. It’s more like where you go to live out your fetishistic dreams. And part of that is seeing it through Dolores’ eyes. It’s new to her, she’s never seen things like this before, and it’s strange and scary and different for her. But for a lot of the hosts there, they were designed to act as pleasure hosts. 

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You have a scene with the orgy pile. I think people watching this wonder: What is it like on set for all those extras when all that’s being shot and simulated? What’s the mood like, and, anecdotally, did anything interesting happen while shooting this?

Joy: I was on set the whole time for that. For me, I get a little shy around this stuff sometimes. It’s very strange, you’re looking at the actors coming in for these roles and you have to do a wardrobe test. In this case you’re not testing clothing so much, it’s what we call the “furry bikini” — they put on a merkin and you look at the way their [body] paint is laid out. I think people imagine when something is sexy on screen that it might be sexy on the day, but it’s not. It’s a bunch of people putting on robes and going to craft services and staying warm, and then doing their thing. But the actors were incredible, and we had a sex consultant on set to make sure everybody felt comfortable and to make sure the scenes were looking sexy enough, and I think that helped. 

Also in Pariah, we’re seeing the hosts fighting back when confronted, and beating up the guests — because the further you go from Sweetwater the more intense the experience. Which apparently can include a fair amount of abuse but not so much that they’d get permanently hurt?

Joy: That’s right. As you get further out the violence becomes more real but doesn’t leave a lasting mark. It’s all part of the dance. You’re meant to get a more visceral experience so the violence gets edgier and edgier. I remember going to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls. Before the Running of the Bulls, they have the Running of the Cows — it’s a different part that nobody ever talks about because it’s just a bunch of cows running with no horns so you can’t get gored. It’s like the novice version. But for the people who go back to Pamplona who really come for the thrill, not only do they want to run with the actual bulls, but they want to wait for the last minute possible to start running because they want to feel like the bull is right on their back; they want the actual possibility of danger. So these people are thrill seekers who want to push the limit. So even though the environment is still safe they want to feel like it’s not. 

One of the “body shop” guys mentioned spending time in a virtual reality tank, which was intriguing. It made me wonder: How much is VR a part of this world?

Nolan: What we’re hinting at there, is that the Westworld park is for the folks in this world who are monied. For everyone else, you have an evolution of the VR that we’re already starting to see become more and more part of gaming; it’s the cheaper version. For the lower-paid techs, they can’t play in the park, but they can play in a virtual version of this world or any other. 

We have this scene between Dr. Ford and the Man in Black, which was cool to have an excuse to put Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris together.

Nolan: It’s more about establishing that these two know each other. One thing I really liked about Tom Hanks’ character in Saving Private Ryan is he’s a solider and his men all speculate about who he is on the outside world. The idea [in Westworld is that] this is cosplay. It’s fantasy. You’re coming to this place putting on the mantel of a character in this world and we’re seeding the audience pieces of who Ed Harris’ character really is. He has has some longstanding business relationship with Ford and he’s clearly involved on some level with the park. We wanted the audience to do that math on what that relationship means and what their connection to one another is. And we love the idea of Ford literally intruding on the Man in Black’s gameplay and sitting down with him. It’s too delicious an opportunity to pass up.

Joy: It’s also interesting, because within the tech world, Ford is like some kind of god in that domain. To an expert player like the Man in Black, you would think he’s going to be blown away by meeting him. But the nature of their relationship seem more like equal footing. The Man in Black seems much more impressed by whoever Ford’s partner is from long ago. What’s also fun is that we’ve talked about how there are ways to make sure there isn’t guest-on-guest violence in the park. And here [with Teddy grabbing the Man in Black’s knife] we see the hosts’ Good Samaritan reflex kicking in.

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We also see some evolution for Dolores, further finding her inner gunslinger in that scene to protect William. At the same time, she’s hearing this mysterious voice in her head guiding her. So while Dolores seems to be going on this journey of evolution and empowerment, if she’s secretly being directed by somebody, is it truly empowering? 

Joy: That is indeed part of the intention we’re exploring here. She seems to be growing into her own personhood and making her own choices. But at the same time she’s hearing this voice and it makes you question how much of this is actually her doing. Westworld is a bit of a Russian nesting doll of reality. You are meant to struggle with that and wonder. 

Nolan: Lisa and I think about this all the time in our lives. We got to work every day and the schedule is laid out for you, and you start to feel like your life is quite programmed. And you start to think about how much of your life is free will 

Joy: It’s the age old question: If you fall in love with a person, are you really falling in love with them? Are you rebelling against how you were brought up? When do you know you’re acting truly as yourself instead of as a product of your environment or your genetic makeup? Or do you have to consider all of those things to be a part of yourself?

More Westworld analysis: Read our deep-dive recap of “Contrapasso.” 

Check our previous postmortem interviews with Nolan and Joy: Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4

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